Belfast Telegraph

Q. How do we know Gerry Adams tried to break out of Long Kesh? A. He wrote about it

The Sinn Fein president is appealing his 1975 convictions for attempting to escape from the prison camp. Malachi O'Doherty sieves the evidence

The first thing that tells you it was a ludicrous plot is that it depended on fog. How often do you get fog on the night before Christmas? It's not a wholly improbable occurrence, but neither is it so common that you could plan a jailbreak around the expectation of it.

The second thing that tells you it was a daft plan is that they went ahead with it - even though the fog let them down. Four of them - Marshall Mooney, Marty O'Rawe, Tommy Tolan and Gerry Adams - crawled out into the night with wire-cutters.

The third thing that tells you they had no chance of escaping was the wire-cutters were going to be of no use against the high metal wall that surrounded the compound of Long Kesh.

If they got as far as the barbed wire, they could cut that. Then what were they going to do? Summon the Tardis? Ask Scotty to beam them up? Sure, they could have done that from their beds and got the same likely result.

Gerry Adams has announced this week that he is appealing his convictions for the crime of trying to escape from Long Kesh while he was interned there.

There are two anomalies in his case. The first is that he has already confessed several times to trying to escape. He has written about it at least twice and though the accounts diverge in interesting emphases, the basic story is in both of them.

Adams, Mooney, Tolan and O'Rawe were trying to get out of the camp surreptitiously and they were caught. Granted, a true believer in human rights would not really consider it a crime to try to escape from internment without trial, but that's not the argument here.

The second anomaly is that those men had no chance of escaping that night, certainly not by the methods they chose. Their best defence, had they chosen to make one, would have been that they were acting the lig. That is certainly what some of the other interned IRA men there thought.

Tommy Gorman said: "I doubt very much if this was a serious attempt to escape, because the chances of success were infinitesimal.

"Maybe Adams wanted to get shifted up to the sentenced end (of the camp).

"His other attempt at escape was as ridiculous. He shaved himself and then taped the beard all back on again, swapped places with another man who was a foot smaller than him."

A former Derry IRA officer commanding (OC) said he also witnessed Adams's escape attempt: "We had a tunnel out of cage 5 and were all set to go and somebody looked out the window and said: 'Look at those boys'. And there was Adams and co cutting the wire.

"What was the point of that?

"At that stage, you were in the walkway that the Brits used to patrol. They got to the point that anyone could have got to, but what was the point, because the lookout post would have seen you?"

Adams did not defend himself against the charge of trying to escape. Provos, at that time, did not recognise the courts. He has said that he sat through the proceedings knitting.

But if Adams and the others were not trying to escape, what were they trying to do? Get caught?

Even Gerry Adams's own accounts of the escape attempt make it sound like a bit of a lark.

When soldiers passed close to them, one of the men stood up and drew attention to himself in the hope that the others wouldn't be noticed. He started cutting the wire in plain view.

When that seemed not to work, Adams stood up and started clowning, hoping to let the other two get away, though by now the soldiers had the wire-cutters.

All four were arrested. Adams writes: "Tommy had hit on the trick of shouting at Marty O'Rawe in a British accent and marching him up to the punishment cells." He was apparently pretended to be one of the arresting soldiers, hoping that the real ones wouldn't notice.

This version of the story makes the British soldiers seem stupid and incompetent.

They also are depicted as brutal, threatening the arrested men with dogs.

In the account of the escape attempt and arrest in Adams's 1996 book Before The Dawn, the arresting soldiers are British and they are gormless thugs.

One of them scratches Adams's face while pulling his glasses off. When being examined by a doctor, Adams asked for cream for the cut and the doctor affects not even to see the cut, so Adams said "Happy Christmas" and left it at that.

In the later account, written in 2006, the arresting soldiers are Ulster Protestants using sectarian language.

By this stage Adams was putting faith in the good intentions of the British and viewing unionism as the obstacle to the peace process. He used the retelling of the escape story to present the British as benign.

In the first version Adams presents himself as tough and resilient. In the later account he described himself as huddled in his cell, frightened and praying, as angry with the clowning of some of his own comrades as he is with the soldiers outside. Tolan and Mooney are taunting the soldiers and even trying to implicate Adams in their game.

The story becomes a kind of parable of the tender-hearted and sensitive soul who wants peace being undermined by his friends in the IRA and by the brutal bigots in uniform.

Only one person in the story appreciates Adams and he enters at that point, another decent-hearted man in the middle of this chaos, reaching out.

The door of Adams's cell opens. A soldier stands there. Adams prepares himself for a beating. But the soldier has brought cigarettes and wants to wish Adams a happy Christmas. If this is a parable, then the soldier stands for Tony Blair, the understanding Brit.

If this midnight visit really happened, it was left out of the first account, probably because no interest was served then in showing a humane side of a British soldier. Gerry Adams was convicted of trying to escape and was transferred then to the section of the camp for sentenced prisoners.

Once there, he was made OC of prisoners in cage 11, where he was in a position of command over Bobby Sands, Bik McFarlane and Brendan Hughes - men who would have roles in the restructuring of the IRA and in the later hunger strikes.

Is it too fanciful to suppose that Gerry Adams is pulling our legs with his yarns about his escape attempt and that the real plan, as Gorman suggests, was to get a conviction and a sentence so that he could move to the heart of the IRA in the sentenced area and start to reshape the campaign?

  • Malachi O'Doherty's book, Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life, is published in September by Faber and Faber

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